Johns Hopkins Study links shale gas wells, indoor radon levels | StateImpact Pennsylvania
Radon is the second leading cause of human lung cancer after tobacco use, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Johns Hopkins University researchers analyzed radon readings collected between 1989 and 2013 by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection from nearly 900,000 buildings — the majority of which were residences. The researchers report buildings in rural and suburban areas where the shale gas wells are located in Pennsylvania had a 39 percent higher concentration of radon. The report was published April 9.
Radon levels in buildings near unconventional natural gas development in Pennsylvania are higher than those in other areas of the state, suggesting that hydraulic fracturing has opened up new pathways for the carcinogenic gas to enter people’s homes, according to a study published on Thursday in Environmental Health Perspectives. Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer worldwide.
Researchers from Johns Hopkins University analyzed radon readings taken in some 860,000 buildings, mostly homes, from 1989 to 2013 and found that those in rural and suburban areas where most shale gas wells are located had a concentration of the cancer-causing radioactive gas that was 39 percent higher overall than those in urban areas.
It also found that buildings using well water had a 21 percent higher concentration of radon than those served by municipal water systems.
And it showed radon levels in active gas-drilling counties rose significantly starting in 2004 when the state’s fracking boom began.
Overall, 42 percent of the buildings analyzed had radon concentrations at over 4 picocuries per liter, the level at which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommends remediation, and which is about three times the national average for indoor air. According to the EPA, there are about 21,000 radon-related lung cancers per year in the U.S.